Another take on the tale

The murder of A.J. Crum as written in George Mansfield’s History of Butte County


In July 1881, in Chapmantown, A.J. Crum, a pioneer of the county, was assaulted by Tom Noakes and beaten and kicked to death. Leaving his victim unconscious, Noakes went before Justice of the Peace Hallett, stated that he had thrashed Crum, and asked to plead guilty to assault. He gave as a reason for the assault that Crum had made derogatory remarks about his brother, who had been killed the previous May in Calaveras County.

Noakes was a large, heavy man, over six feet in height, while Crum was an elderly man, slight and crippled. Crum had located at Crum’s Ranch in 1856 0r 1857. He died without recovering consciousness. Noakes was lodged in the Chico jail, and was later brought to Oroville, where a charge of murder was placed against him.

On August 12, 1881, a mob gathered in Chico and drove to Oroville in wagons. It was reported on the street that Noakes was to be lynched. Sheriff Sprague, who was in Chico, heard the rumors and attempted to telegraph a warning to the officers in Oroville, but the wire was down.

The following account of the lynching is given in the Butte Record:

“After placing guards at both ends of the bridge, at the houses of the Sheriff and Under Sheriff, and upon the corners of the streets in the vicinity of the Court-house, a posse of some fifteen or twenty proceeded to the jail, which is in the basement of the Court-house. They rapped at the door of the jailer’s room and Mr. Knowles answered, and asked them what they wanted. The reply was they had a prisoner from Biggs.

“As soon as the door opened two strong men seized Knowles and told him what their real business with him at that hour (1:30) of the night was, and that they wanted the keys of the jail, but Knowles said that he would not give up the keys. He was then told to sit down and keep quiet, which he did, and the crowd passed in to the rear door of the room, armed with sledge hammers, crow-bars, and cold chisels, and in less than ten minutes three doors had yielded up their locks, and the iron tank that incarcerated Noakes was opened.

“It is said that Noakes threatened death to any one who should enter his cell when heheard the first door giving away under the blows of the sledges, but when the thundering sounds of the hammers fell upon his ear, as they downed the chisels through the bar and lock of his cell, he became submissive and resigned himself to his fate.

“After the victim was taken from the jail and was on the bridge crossing the river, the jailer was liberated, and as soon as possible went to the rope of the Court-house bell to ring an alarm, but the rope being cut he climbed up to the belfry and rang the alarm, which gave the citizens of Oroville the first news of what had transpired.

“But so few were interested in the welfare of the prisoner that the alarm failed to draw a crowd upon the street, and it is said that when the Coroner started out to search for the body he had to go to the houses in order to get enough men to make up a Coroner’s jury.

“It is said that Noakes had but little to say at first, and was comparatively quiet till he heard the alarm from the Court-house bell; then he yelled ‘Bloody murder! Bloody murder!’

“He told the lynchers that it was not his intention to kill Crum; he said that he only wanted to give him a good beating. He said Crum had told a lady friend of his that his (Noaks’) brother had starved and mistreated his wife, and had not the people of Chico taken care of her she would have died of starvation, which was all a lie, and as his brother was now dead, he was not going to let any man talk that way about a dead brother of his.

“His attendants told him that they had heard that tale before, and he had better spend his time in praying for his soul than to consume it in giving a history of the Crum murder.

“At 3 o’clock the party arrived at the Crum ranch. The rope was over the limb and the noose ready to do its work. The wagon was driven under the tree. Noaks’ hands werebound behind him and his feet bound together with baling rope, and when all was ready the wagon drove out, and Noaks’ body was left dangling in the air.

“The Crum ranch is the place on Dry Creek, where A. J. Crum settled about 1860, and built a hotel. The slickens from the cherokee mine overflowed the land, and the mining company purchased the land. For several years the house has remained tenantless.”